Russia’s Lavrov says West seeking Hitler-style ‘final solution,’ sparking protests

In latest controversial remarks on Holocaust, Moscow’s top diplomat claims US and Europe trying to wipe out Russia by waging war via Ukraine; Israel calls comments ‘unacceptable’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds his annual press conference in Moscow on January 18, 2023. (Yuri Kadobnov/AFP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds his annual press conference in Moscow on January 18, 2023. (Yuri Kadobnov/AFP)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the US and Europe on Wednesday of seeking a “final solution” to “the Russia question” comparable to Adolf Hitler’s plan to wipe out the Jews in World War II, drawing anger from Israel, Germany and some of Moscow’s other Western adversaries.

“Just as Napoleon mobilized practically all of Europe against the Russian Empire, just as Hitler mobilized and captured… the majority of European countries and sent them against the Soviet Union, now the United States has organized a coalition,” Lavrov said at an annual press conference.

Western countries, he said, are “by proxy through Ukraine waging war against our country.”

“The task is the same: the final solution of the ‘Russian question.’ Just as Hitler wanted to finally solve the Jewish question.”

Israel said Lavrov’s remarks were “unacceptable.”

“Any comparison or relating current events with Hitler’s final solution plan for the extermination of the Jewish People distorts the historical truth, desecrates the memory of those who perished and the survivors and should be strongly rejected,” said the Foreign Ministry.

Jewish children deported from Lodz ghetto to Chelmno death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland (public domain)

Under Hitler, Nazi Germany and its collaborators murdered around six million Jews in the Holocaust.

Germany said the statement was “appalling.”

“The historical lesson to draw here is: Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine will neither be forgotten nor left unpunished,” said Berlin’s Ambassador Steffen Seibert.

France’s embassy in Israel called Lavrov’s remarks “outrageous and disgraceful.”

“The one and only ‘Final Solution’ left an unspeakable scar in mankind’s history,” read the French statement.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the remarks.

Lavrov has faced accusations of antisemitism in recent months.

Ties between Israel and Russia soured in May following Lavrov’s claim that Adolf Hitler had Jewish heritage and that “some of the worst antisemites are Jews,” in an attempt to explain Moscow invasion as an attempt to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.

Demonstrators hold Russian state flags and flags with with the letter Z, which has become a symbol of the Russian military, and a hashtag reading “We don’t abandon our own” during a rally support the referendum on annexing Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, on Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin and Red Square with the Historical Museum in the background in Moscow, Russia, September 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Israel — along with many Western nations — harshly criticized Lavrov for those comments, which then-foreign minister Yair Lapid called “unforgivable.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry then doubled down on the claims in a statement that accused Lapid of making “anti-historical statements” that “largely explain why the current Israeli government supports the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin ultimately apologized to Israel for Lavrov’s comments.

Moscow has repeatedly sought to justify its invasion of Ukraine by claiming that it is working to counter neo-Nazi forces in the country, something largely dismissed by most Western nations.

File: Firefighters work after a drone attack on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna)

Under the Lapid-Naftali Bennett government, Israel sought to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Moscow and Kyiv, preserving relations with both of its allies and offering to broker talks, while supplying Ukraine with humanitarian assistance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to maintain that approach, though Foreign Minister Eli Cohen angered Kyiv and its backers when he indicated ahead of talks with Lavrov earlier this month that Israel would avoid denouncing Russia publicly.

Jerusalem and Moscow have in recent years maintained a so-called deconfliction mechanism that works to prevent Israeli and Russian forces from clashing in Syria. Russia is a main player backing the Syrian government in a grinding civil war, while Israel has waged a years-long campaign of airstrikes aimed at pro-Iranian fighters located there and at preventing the transfer of Iranian-supplied weaponry.

AFP contributed to this report.

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